Give up the ghosts.
I grew up loving ghost stories.
I was the girl who wanted to close all the curtains and black out the playroom at 2pm on a Saturday so my friends and I could sit in a circle on the floor, with our flashlights, and read “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.”
There’s just something about a good ghost story that gets me. My dad tells this one story about the time he chased the ghost of his grandfather out of his old home.
The year was likely 1989 or 1990. My cousin was only a few years old at the time but he must have had an enough language to tell his mother he kept encountering a “strange man” in his room at night. I don’t know what the “strange man” would do— perhaps he paced the room or sat in the chair by the bed.
It was my father who knew his grandfather died in that bedroom. He must have known this was the strange man visiting in the night. He decided to confront the ghost.
I called my dad this afternoon to make sure I got the story correct. I’ve heard it for years but, because my imagination is a little too robust, I imagined my father chasing the ghost out with a broom all these years.
My father tells the story nonchalantly though, like one day he walked into the bedroom of that old house and said something along the lines of, “Listen, you don’t live here anymore. You need to stop coming around. You need to get out.”
My father called out the ghost and the ghost stopped after that day. It was as simple as, “Hey, no. You can’t do that.”
We’ve got ghosts in our midst.
This much I know. I’ve read the emails from you. I’ve listened to the horror stories. I’m familiar with the present-day "ghosting" we’ve got going on.
There are no white bed sheets with holes poked out for eyes but there are blue-eyed boys who don’t text back and girls who act as if you never existed as they delete their presence from your life after a second date.
This is the epidemic.
And maybe it has been around for years but just went under a different guise. Because so much of our communication is happening over a phone, we think there are less consequences to dropping off the face of the planet when we want to move on from someone.
At first you think the person on the other side of the phone is busy.
Internal dialogue: They’re busy. That’s it. That’s the most logical explanation: they simply don’t have their phone on them. They’re one of those cool aloof people who prefer to go through their day unplugged.
A day passes.
Internal dialogue: They must be dead. Maybe they’ve been abducted. Should I file a Missing Persons report? What if they are lost in the woods and I am the last person they spoke to?
Three days pass. They post on social media. They seem fine. They’re not tied up or begging to a webcam for someone to send in ransom money.
Internal dialogue: Oh, wait. I’ve been ghosted. They didn’t get kidnapped, they just didn’t feel like talking to me anymore. Wow. That hurts.
Ghosting. It’s a passive way to withdraw and wash your hands clean of someone. And yet it confirms the worst fear for the person on the other side of the phone: not the fear that they won’t end up with a broken heart but the fear they aren’t even worthy of an explanation or a farewell text.
I’ve been ghosted before.
It feels like a blunt object hitting you in the dark. I felt blindsided and confused. I felt embarrassed, more than anything, that the person I spoke so highly of to my friends must have not felt the same about me. I felt disposable. I felt like I’d spent all this time writing a story down in a word document for someone else to come along and press “delete” when I looked away for a moment.
Worse than that though, I’ve been the ghost.
I am completely guilty of ghosting more than one persons before the term “ghosting” was even a thing. I’m not proud of this accolade but I want to be honest enough to admit I once thought ghosting someone was easier than real confrontation. I didn’t stop to think of how I might have been steamrolling over that person’s self-esteem. I think part of me thought, “Well, someone did it to me. It is my right to do it to others.” This is dangerous thinking.
It wasn’t until late 2014 that I learned my lesson. I conversed with a guy I met on a dating app for about two weeks. We talked on the phone. We texted back and forth throughout the day. We made a date and met up in a coffee shop in Atlanta. I had my suspicions that we weren’t a match before this date but I walked away knowing I didn’t want to pursue this further.
The best thing I could have done was simply say, “Hey, you’re a great guy but I just don’t see us being a match.” I could have wished him well. I could have let him off the hook.
I didn’t do the best thing. Instead, I stopped responding to his texts. And this guy was pretty ambitious so he continued to text me week after week as if I’d never ignored him to begin with. He’d check in. He’d continue to try and make contact. And then one day he confronted me.
He sent me a long text about how it was pretty unfair of me to stop responding without so much as an explanation. That I was wasting his time. That I wouldn’t get very far if I chose to do this to other people.
Sometimes we need to be called out when we mess up. I think we all need that. Otherwise, we continue moving forward with unhealthy styles of breaking up or breaking things off. We treat people as we hoped we would never be treated and it’s toxic and damaging.
I remember sitting there reading the text once, then twice, then 5 times. I felt ashamed. I felt gutted. And then, out of nowhere, I felt overly impressed with this guy. I felt thankful. I felt enough to say to myself, “Wow, I can’t do that again. He’s right.” And I responded back to him. I pulled the white sheet off my head and I folded it up for good.
How to be a modern-day ghostbuster
001. Confront your ghost.
This is the most brilliant and brave action. It takes courage but you are entirely capable of doing this. A friend of mine was ghosted recently and she was pretty broken up about it. They’d been on a few dates. Things were going well. She was genuinely excited for the “what’s next.” And then, out of nowhere, he ghosted her. He stopped responding to texts. He never gave an explanation.
Now you can only imagine how this crumbles a person’s self-esteem. You might not always get closure but you sure do deserve clarity.
“You need to call him out,” I told her. “You need to let him know he can’t do that anymore.”
I said this to her because I knew how much that call-out text shook me.
I think we have to be people who hold one another accountable for their actions or that other person gets away with thinking deleting another person from existence is just casual and okay. I know I am thankful for the guy who stood up to me and called me out for ghosting him. It made me think twice. It made his feelings real. It made me realize there was a real person on the other side of the screen who deserved explanations and decent send-offs.
My friend crafted a brilliant text to send to her ghost. She told him he was wrong and that she hoped he wouldn’t do this to someone else. She was bold and on-fire that day. And the cool part? The ghost pulled the sheet off his head and responded. He apologized. He accepted what he did wrong and they had a final dialogue that resembled closure.
Calling out the ghost is a way to grab onto closure for ourselves. I say this because the person still might not respond. They may never respond and that is not the point of the confrontation.
Send the text with no expectations for a follow-up. Send the text for yourself because you deserve to stand up and say, “I deserve better than this."
002. Turn yourself in.
I realize this is gutsy and I also don’t expect everyone to hurl themselves towards this option but what would it look like to give ourselves up? To turn ourselves in? To apologize for our ghosting habits.
Now, now, hear me right: I am not challenging you to reach out to some old flame and try to be noble in admitting your faults. I am not telling you to go back and establish a friendship. But I am saying this: if you’ve carried around guilt for the way you treated someone else, you can apologize. You can tell a person you’ve learned your lesson. It doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out dialogue. But you are free to craft an apology, send the text, and walk into the freedom set before you.
003. It’s not about you.
I’ve watched enough ghost-hunting stories to know the ghost is typically someone who has unfinished business. That’s usually why they haunt around.
The immediate response to being ghosted is “what is wrong with me?”
Your ghost is the one who has the issue. Not you. Know that in the deep of you. If a person chooses to end a relationship without an explanation, that’s on them. That does not change the fact that you are worthy of a response. You are worthy of love. You deserve someone who ties up the loose ends. You deserve decent goodbyes and love that doesn’t let go.
It is tempting to want this encounter to be a scratch against your dignity, a scratch against what you think you deserve, but you can’t let the ghost haunt you for longer than necessary.
Give them up. Let them go. Forgive your ghost for their immature decision but don’t believe the lie that all people will ghost you and leave you wanting.
You deserve more. You are worthy of that good, lasting love. You have all the power to say out loud to the things and people that haunt you, “Hey, no. You had your moment. And now it is time for you leave."